It is without a doubt that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time, and arguably one of the greatest athletes to play in competitive sports. But the movie Air, directed by and co-starring Ben Affleck, isn’t a movie about the greatest player of the game. Rather this story focuses on the chance meeting between Michael Jordan and the company NIKE during the 1980s. The deal that was made between the player and the sneaker company was a monumental one that changed the way basketball players did business with shoe companies. Luckily for us, the way this tale is delivered is through a fun and nostalgic lens that takes us all back to the mid-80s to see the origins of the most popular NIKE sneaker collaborations in history, the Air Jordan brand.
While Ben Affleck is a co-star, the film actually follows Matt Damon’s character Sonny Vaccaro. Sonny would risk everything to put together NIKE’s pitch to the Jordan family for Michael Jordan to ink a deal with the company out of his rookie year going into the NBA. And while history tells us how Michael Jordan became a legendary figure in the sports world, the NIKE deal he makes via Sonny’s hard work became a game-changer for the sports world and pop culture. Sonny is the focus of the story but is supported by Ben Affleck’s Phil Knight, the co-founder and chairmen of NIKE, and their team members Jason Bateman as Rob Strasser, and Chris Tucker as Howard White.
The series of events leading up to the outcome we know is accurate but also given a bit of exaggeration in some places. While we may never know the exact conversations that happened back then, the interactions between Sonny and the rest of the NIKE workers feels raw and real enough to make us believe that this is how it may have gone down. Everything from how the Air Jordan name was created to the pitch meeting at NIKE headquarters is dramatized, in some cases a little too much than what it needed to be.
Some of the arguments between characters are pretty humorous and will get a genuine laugh out of everyone, even though there’s probably no way things happened like that. A few of the phone calls between Sonny and some of the other cast are rooted in sports business talk, and yet have a relatable charm that feels timeless between decades.
Speaking of which, Air has a very deep reverence for the 1980s. Everything from the clothes being worn to the music choices are directly from the year in which the movie takes place, which is 1984. There are a few montages that showcase some of the world events and big pop-culture moments that set the tone for the rest of the film, which seems a bit cliché for period pieces set within this era. But the montages act as a bookend for both the beginning and end of the film when things finally come together, with clips of Michael Jordan’s future accomplishments and the aftermath of the NIKE deal he made.
One of the interesting components of the film is Viola Davis as Michael Jordan’s mother, Deloris Jordan. She acts as a gatekeeper to her son from Sonny and everyone else, as well as an understanding mother who sees the good intention behind Sonny’s initial pitch from NIKE. Every time Viola is on screen the events feel emotional and have a bit of tension, often because everyone in the room is pitching to her as much as they are to the young Michael Jordan.
There are multiple times in the movie that its reinforced that the key to getting to Michael was by convincing his mother, which is followed through to the end. Thematically it works, but this is also historically accurate with a short clip during the credits that shows Michael Jordan speaking about his mother during his NBA Hall of Fame speech. This never becomes an overbearing part of the story, but one that feels earned and makes sense as we see Sonny put in the work to convince the Jordan family to work with NIKE.
The rest of the cast and their stories are a bit shallower in comparison but are fun to see leading up to the finale. Chris Tucker as Howard White has some great comedic moments that pull in references to what was going on in pop culture in 1984, specifically how black culture was fascinated by Adidas at the time. The Run DMC song “My Adidas” is brought up to convey how much NIKE was behind other show companies back then. A lot of the humor comes from Howard White, but there are a few spots that involve both Rob Strasser and David Falk, Michael Jordan’s then-agent played by Chris Messina. Shouting matches over the phone and jabs during meetings are hilarious, especially after Sonny decides to visit the Jordan family directly after being told not to do so. The back & forth will make you laugh.
But with all of this talk about Michael Jordan, does he ever make an appearance in the film? Yes, and not really. Unfortunately, while there is a stand-in actor for the young Michael Jordan, you never actually see his face or hear him speak very much. The scenes where he shows up have camera tricks that hid his face, where he’s either seen from behind or has someone or something blocking the view of his face. It gets a little silly at times, including in the later part of the film where Michael and his parents visit NIKE for their fateful meeting. While this creative decision works enough to make us suspend disbelief and see that as the young Michael Jordan from all of the clips shown, it still can be goofy at times.
The film would’ve benefited more if an actor was cast as young Michael and we got to see and hear him speak more by the end of the movie. Instead of awkward camera angles and characters interrupting at convenient times, we could’ve seen the young Michael’s face as he’s given the pitch from NIKE. Instead, we see the reaction from everyone else in the room, more specifically Deloris Jordan and Michael’s father James R. Jordan Sr. This is even more the case since at the end you hear Michael speak through the phone briefly in a call to Sonny after everything comes to pass.
Even if you’re not a big fan of basketball or sports in general, Air is a genuinely good movie that has a great story rooted in history. It doesn’t focus on the star player we all know but gives us something more to compliment the legacy of Michael Jordan and tell a story not many have heard before. It’s fun, interesting, and a bit nostalgic all at the same time. The same kind of feeling that some people might get when they look at a pair of Air Jordan sneakers they got from that era.
Are you going to watch Air sometime? Were you a Michael Jordan fan or love the game of basketball? Tell us about everything down below in the comments!
Air: Courting A Legend
This is a great movie that is a great window into the history behind a major event in sports. While there are some overdramatization and liberties taken in some spots, the majority of the movie is accurate and interesting to watch. Some moments will make you laugh and make even non-sports fans enjoy what happens throughout.
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